Why Does English Have So Many Synonyms?


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Will Martin answered
Modern English has an unusually large number of synonyms or near-synonyms, mainly because of the influence of two very diferent language groups: Germanic (Anglo-Saxon and, to a lesser extent, Old Norse are the main basis of English) and Latin or Romance languages (some Latin, mainly French.)
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, French beacame the official language and remained so for 300 years. This introduced thousands of wholly new words like "noble" , "serf" and "parliament", but also thousands of synonyms. Very often there is a subtle difference between the old English word and its French-based equivalent; for instance, "goodwill" is more concrete than "benevolence." Generally there is a feeling that the "English" words are more basic and the French more elegant and/or less commonly used; compare "half" with "moiety".
Latin synonyms are also very common; not because of the ancient Roman invasion, but due to the influence of the medieval church and, later, the use of Latin as a mark of high education. A typical example of this use of Latin today is the way we still use Latin names for plants that have Eglish names already.

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